Several years ago I tripped, launching myself into the air before face-planting in a belly flop onto concrete. I broke my left arm and right wrist and shattered the bones in my nose to where they were sticking out through the skin. When I came to, I drove myself (I have a hard time asking for help) to a nearby 24-hour Medi-clinic. The woman at the desk ran through the lobby screaming at me not to bleed on the carpet and go to a real emergency room. That was when I knew it was bad.
At the ER, no one would sit next to me in the waiting room. A friend was driving over to meet me as the adrenaline was wearing off and the pain was setting in. Two EMT’s scurried by with a senior citizen on a gurney, but one looked at me, stopped, and declared, “Sir, I’m sorry, but your modeling career is over”. He had a nurse bring me an ice pack and towel to hold over my nose, but neither hand could accomplish that pose.
The nose bones were so traumatized that the ER doctor decided to stuff all the bone fragments under the skin and suture it closed, to allow the bones and tissue to heal. The plan was that in 6 months, someone would do surgery to put it back together. Even two weeks later when the swelling went down and the black turned to blue, then green, then ochre, then normal, it appeared as if there were bits of gravel or broken jelly beans under my skin.
I had broken my nose 3 times earlier in my life. Each time, my nose either slanted a bit toward the right or then the left, like a wishy-washy sundial.
Finally the day of the surgery arrived. I loved the doctor and his staff and was excited to finally have a smooth and straight nose. Somewhere near the end of the surgery, I lost consciousness for ten minutes. I was brought back with an injection or two, and they decided to end the inside work and get me closed up. In the meantime, they placed a port in my leg, just in case. They needed it because I died again for 5 minutes, and they were able to do another shot directly into the leg artery. They moved me from the operating room in a medical tower to the hospital across the street. Afterward, they explained to my mom and friends what had happened, and they came across, too.
When I woke up, I was in ICU, connected to several machines. The first thing I remember was having the breathing tube removed from my throat. Next, a nurse asking me who was there. I had no idea what had happened, but I asked about my late father, my late sister, and my recently deceased sister-in-law. I had a story about each one… where they were in the room, their actions, their non-verbal dialogue, etc.
The ICU Nurse explained that seeing loved ones was a very common experience when people die and come back and not to worry. I didn’t understand, and she calmly explained what happened, since I seemed upset. The last thing I remember was insisting that I would not be going with my dad and sister.
I remember a sense of love and light that doesn’t exist in this reality. I remember a peace and feeling safe. I wasn’t shocked at seeing dead family as much as noticing them giving me signs that it was really them and to trust the moment. But there was no worry, no judgement. Soon after, in retrospect, I felt like I was downloaded with information and abilities while I was connected to that light.
Around the same time, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston started to exhibit their enormous copy of Audubon’s Birds of America in the American Art galleries. The large volume was in a glass case, but pages would be turned so that on different visits new pages were available for viewing. I made the pilgrimage several times, and one day it hit me that all these gorgeous images were painted from dead specimens, pinned to walls in different poses to look alive. Audubon surrounded the dead birds with plants and landscape to dispel the lie.
I recall that above the book was a button to turn on a light for 30 seconds and see it better.
One day, standing before that book, I felt like an Audubon bird on the open page, with the light on. I left the museum and went to my studio and started making things white… titanium white paint, gesso, Kilz, white out, cutting, erasing.
Over the last several years, there have been a few times when things got rough and I would think to myself it might never get better than “that day” when I felt such profound light and unconditional love. Being connected to the Creator of All That Is is a difficult experience to try to find or recreate in this 3-D world. The dominance of white in these works reminds me of that peace, much like travel photos call forth entire sensory experiences from far away places.